Bangladesh lifts lockdown to celebrate, infuriating experts – .

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Bangladesh lifts lockdown to celebrate, infuriating experts – .


DHAKA, BANGLADESH – While waiting among hundreds of fellow travelers to catch a ferry from the capital of Bangladesh, unemployed construction worker Mohammed Nijam knew he was at risk of catching the coronavirus, but he estimated that ‘It was even riskier to stay in Dhaka with another lockdown looming.

“I have to pay rent every month even though I don’t have a job,” he said, adding that his landlord had bothered him for money when he was just struggling to eat. “I prefer to go to my village house and lead my life as God allows me. “

Nijam is among tens of millions of Bangladeshis shopping and traveling this week during a controversial eight-day break amid the country’s strict coronavirus lockdown the government is allowing for the Islamic Eid al-Adha festival. The suspension has been overturned by health experts who warn it could exacerbate a continuing wave fueled by the highly contagious delta variant, which was first detected in neighboring India.

“There is already a shortage of beds, of intensive care units, while our health care providers are exhausted,” said Be-Nazir Ahmed, public health expert and former chief health officer of the government. “So if the situation worsens and more patients come to hospitals, it will be almost impossible to cope with the crisis. “

With the virus spreading, almost everything in Bangladesh was closed on July 1, from markets to public transport. Soldiers and border guards patrolled the streets and thousands of people were arrested and sent to jail for breaking lockdown.

Yet even with the new restrictions, virus deaths still hovered around 200 per day and daily infections were still around 11,000, both considered underestimates. As of Sunday, 225 deaths and 11,758 infections were reported.

Despite warnings from experts – and with just over 4 million of the country’s 160 million people fully vaccinated – the government announced that from July 15 to 23, all restrictions would be lifted and everything would be reopened for people to can celebrate the festival, which is normally a boon to the economy.

“But, in all situations, people should remain vigilant, use face masks and strictly follow health instructions,” a government policy statement said.

Government officials have not responded to criticism of the decision. A Public Administration Ministry official, who issued the order to end the lockdown, referred The Associated Press to the policy statement when asked to comment. Calls and emails to a spokesperson for the Department of Health were not returned.

A young minister of the Ministry of Public Administration, Farhad Hossain, told local media on Saturday that the lockdown needed to be relaxed as much business revolves around the festival.

The result in the capital was that crowds of people crowded into malls and markets to do their holiday shopping and others crowded into ports and bus stations as they tried to force their way through. a path to their rural hometowns.

During the last major Islamic festival in May, around 10 million of Dhaka’s 20 million people left to celebrate with their families. A similar number could travel this week, especially since many like Nijam, the construction worker, may be looking to wait for the next closure in their villages.

Among the huge crowd of people shopping at Dhaka’s New Market was Shah Alam, a dental technician.

“While the government has eased the situation for a few days, we are coming to the markets to buy the necessary goods,” Alam said. “We try to follow the health safety instructions. “

Ahmed, the health expert, said he sees the main risks of suspending the lockdown, as townspeople spread the virus in their villages and people spread the virus as they go to markets to their purchases, especially the cattle markets where millions of people will buy animals to be sacrificed for Eid al-Adha.

“Perhaps hundreds of thousands of cattle markets will be held all over the country, from the remote village to the town, and the cattle sellers and other people engaged in trade come mainly from rural areas, and they may bring be the virus with them, ”he added. mentionned.

According to his estimates, 30 to 40 million people will gather for prayer in mosques or open fields across the country for the festival on Wednesday.

“Eid congregations are going to be a big-ticket event,” he said.

He said the month following the festival will be a critical time for a country that has already recorded nearly 1.1 million infections and nearly 18,000 deaths from the pandemic.

“We may not avoid a catastrophic situation,” he said.

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Associated Press video journalist Al-emrun Garjon contributed to this report.

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